BUFFALO, N.Y. — DNA analysis. Holiday get-togethers.
It’s all happening at East High School, thanks to a medley
of community partners that files through the school’s double
doors several times a year to discuss challenges and achievements
The event, coordinated by a Say Yes Buffalo employee who works
at the school, provides a window into how various local
organizations are banding together to inject energy into the
school. The next partners breakfast will take place on April
“When we’re at the table trying to find ideas to
support our students and get them over the hump, we know we have
people that we can go to for assistance,” said East High
School Principal Casey Young. “We don’t feel so
At one breakfast, there are teachers and counselors from the
school, along with workers from a nonprofit mental health agency
and a D’Youville College program that prepares East students
for health care jobs.
The University at Buffalo’s Interdisciplinary Science and
Engineering Partnership (ISEP), which helps reinvent science
education with more hands-on learning, is represented by
coordinator Karen King. The program arranged for biology teacher
Patrick McQuaid to conduct summer genetics research at Roswell Park
Cancer Institute, and paid for him to buy a DNA amplifier so he can
lead related experiments in class.
One planned activity: Asking students to extract and analyze
their own DNA.
“Our partners give us access to expertise we
wouldn’t otherwise have on-site,” Young said.
“With ISEP, science and technology moves at such a fast pace
that what you learn can become outdated very fast, and the program
counters this by giving Mr. McQuaid state-of-the-art training and
supplies, which he’s able to share with the rest of our
The community partners helping at East are varied, and their
Contributions to the academic and social life of the school
- A 2013 Thanksgiving feast that doubled as a
parent-teacher event. More than 200 people attended. Families met
with teachers, and the principal handed out report cards
personally. Ben Hilligas, Say Yes Buffalo site facilitator at East,
focuses on coordinating external partnerships at East and helped
plan the event.
- Academic support. Ninety percent of students in
East’s Health Occupation Training Program graduate, says
Young. This program is supported by D’Youville
College’s Nursing Workforce Diversity Program, which provides
free tutoring, mentoring, SAT prep, college tours and more.
- College students in class. Through ISEP, UB students in
science and engineering work at East on a regular basis, helping
teachers teach and kids solve problems. This semester, two UB
undergraduates and three graduate students are participating.
- Scholarships — and a new mindset. East High
graduates can get scholarships to any public college in New York,
or one of 53 private institutions nationwide through Say Yes
Buffalo. Say Yes scholarships cover tuition for eligible students,
and after only one year has “East students of all ages
talking about and preparing for college,” Young says.
“Students used to talk about college only in their junior and
senior years, and with Say Yes now it is a conversation that begins
- Help navigating financial aid. UB Assistant Professor
Nathan Daun-Barnett and a troop of UB students and volunteers
helped double the number of East High students completing the Free
Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) between spring 2012 and
2013. The FAFSA determines eligibility for federal financial aid,
and students must fill it out to be eligible for Say Yes
- College prep. The Liberty Partnerships Program at UB
offers East High students services including academic counseling
and college application assistance. Liberty Partnerships and
faculty at East have discussed expanding on this work to create an
on-site college success center where students could get help
registering for SATs, finding the right college and picking the
right major and career.
All the organizations working at East have the same goal: To
increase student engagement, performance and graduation at a
high-needs, urban school.
“If you go into schools in Buffalo, you’re going to
see hardworking teachers and caring administrations, and at East,
you’re also going to see a multitude of community partners
that are bringing real services to students,” said David
Rust, Say Yes Buffalo’s executive director.
The objective moving forward will be to improve communication
between community partners to ensure they coordinate their efforts
in a way that makes sense and maximizes the use of time and
Already, new opportunities are forming. McQuaid’s
experience in ISEP led ISEP leadership into a deeper conversation
with Roswell Park, which has invited high schoolers to work with
institute scientists each summer for the past 60 years. McQuaid,
ISEP coordinator Karen King and ISEP project lead Joseph Gardella,
a UB professor, are working with Roswell officials to develop
learning experiences that will help prepare students from East for
summer research internships in Roswell labs.